New study of evolutionary rates in viruses

Sebastian Duchene and Simon Ho, together with colleague Eddie Holmes, have published a paper on viral evolutionary rates in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. This paper has important implications for our understanding of the evolutionary rates and timescales of viruses. Viruses are responsible for a large proportion of infectious diseases. They can …

Deep-sea isopods confirmed to be ancient

Evolution, extinction and recolonisation. These processes formed the core of Luana Lins’s exploration into the isopods of the deep sea. This environment was once thought to be lifeless, but four decades ago the abyss was discovered to be teeming with extremely diverse life forms. The discoveries continue today with Luana’s research, which asks the question …

Genome-invading retroviruses are a nasty surprise

An international team of scientists, including Dr Simon Ho from the University of Sydney, has found that the koala genome is slowly being invaded by a retrovirus associated with Chlamydia infection and leukaemia. Unlike other viruses, retroviruses must actually copy their genetic material into the host genome as part of their life cycle. On occasion, …

Zoo polar bear killed by zebra virus

Zoos bring together different animal species that would never encounter each other in the wild. This can have unforeseen consequences. When in 2010 one polar bear died and another fell severely ill in a German zoo, veterinarians were at a loss as to the cause of the symptoms. It has now been shown that the …

Termite collecting in the Top End

Four MEEP lab members recently went on a field trip to the Northern Territory with other termite scientists from Queensland, Japan, and Belgium. We collected the giant Australian termite Mastotermes darwiniensis and other species. M. darwiniensis represents the most primitive termite lineage and is only found in the top end of Australia, where it is …

Modern dogs have little in common with ancient breeds

Interbreeding of dogs over thousands of years has made it extremely difficult to trace the ancient genetic roots of today’s pets, according to a new study by an international team of scientists, including Dr Simon Ho. The team analysed data of the genetic make-up of modern dogs, alongside an assessment of the archaeological record of …

Iconic Southern Hemisphere trees 13-113 million years old

A new study of southern beeches shows that estimates of their evolutionary timescale can vary drastically, depending on the way we calculate the rate of evolution. Unfortunately, not every species that once lived has left a trace in the fossil record. This makes it difficult to estimate evolutionary timescales. But this information can often be …

Star Wars bacterium provides glimpse into the evolution of life

Fans of Star Wars would know of Midi-chlorians as helpful microbes that live inside cells granting the mystical power known as “The Force”, but a bacterium of the same name has provided new clues into the evolution of our own cells and how they came to possess the vital energy-producing units called mitochondria. University of …

Climate change and humans caused Ice Age extinctions

In the largest study of its kind, an international team of scientists – including Dr Simon Ho – have unravelled the factors that caused the extinction of iconic Ice Age mammals such as the woolly rhinoceros and woolly mammoth. The study, published in the journal Nature, shows that both climate change and humans are responsible …

Ants and termites boost wheat yields

In an exciting experiment with major implications for food production under climate change, CSIRO and University of Sydney scientists have found allowing ants and termites to flourish increased a wheat crop’s yield by more than one third. The study, carried out on a farm in an arid area 100 km northeast of Geraldton in Western …